Vigilance and unity are key to the fight against extremism
Terrorism respects no borders, as a string of recent atrocities proves. In a mere week, a subway bombing in Russia’s St Petersburg killed 13 people, four died in a truck attack in Stockholm, Sweden, and blasts outside Coptic Christian churches in Egypt took the lives of 47. The tragedies came as a terror plot was foiled by Norwegian police in Oslo and a tourist died in a London hospital, the fifth victim of last month’s car-and-knife rampage in the British capital. These were on top of depressingly frequent suicide blasts in Pakistan and Iraq that each month kill dozens more. Fighting extremism requires communities being united and resilient, but governments also need to be coordinated and prepared for a lengthy ideological war.
So many attacks in such a short space of time would seem to indicate increased risk. Details of most remain sketchy despite arrests and investigations are needed to determine who was behind the attacks and why they were carried out. The Swedish tragedy appears the most clear-cut, with a refugee from Uzbekistan whose asylum claim had been rejected having been arrested for allegedly being behind the wheel of the truck that ploughed into a crowd of shoppers last Friday. Islamic State (IS) has said it was behind the two bombings in Egypt, but the claim has to be verified as the country’s Coptic Christians have long been the target of Muslim extremist groups.
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Security has been stepped up in each place. In the case of Egypt, a three-month state of emergency has been declared. But that alone does not ensure protection for the minority religious group, which has endured centuries of attacks, a number in the past year claimed by IS. The blasts came weeks before a planned visit by Pope Francis, who wants to show support for Christians, who make up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s population. In each of the other attacks, Islamic militancy is also suspected or known.
Terror attacks by radicalised Muslims in France, Belgium and Germany and a flood of refugees from conflicts in Syria, Iraq and north Africa have contributed to the rise of right-wing, anti-immigrant sentiment. Like US President Donald Trump, some politicians contend that the best way to fight the threat is to restrict immigration from Muslim countries and tighten border controls. But the idea of a “fortress Europe” does not lessen the threat, some of which has come from home-grown radicals. Security agencies and governments have to better communicate and share information, both within national boundaries and between countries.
Less understood, but as important, is fighting the ideology of Muslim extremism. Only Muslims can do that and it requires religious leaders speaking out against violence and educating communities. There are no quick fixes, so the vigilance and unity of societies are paramount.